Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s national Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, is a particularly poignant day for me. My father, Yosef Danon, blessed be his memory, died on the eve of this special day.
He was one of 23,928 fallen soldiers who gave their lives for the independence and security of our state. On this day, my personal grief connects with my national mourning. Along with the rest of the country, I remember the heroes of Israel’s wars. And I remember the biggest hero I have ever known: my father.
Every year when I accompany my mother to the Kiryat Shaul cemetery to mark the yahrzeit of his death, we feel that the entire county is bowing its head to honor our own personal hero. This is the power and the intensity of Memorial Day. Personal grief and pain, for one day, is shared by the entire nation.
On this most special of days, we set aside disputes. There’s no right or left, no coalition or opposition. On this day, there is only a feeling of unity and shared destiny.
My father’s story is one of many heroic ones that emerged from Israel’s defensive wars. He served in a reconnaissance unit and was one of the best navigators that the Israel Defense Forces ever knew.
One day during one of his stints in the reserves, he was acutely wounded in a battle in the Jordan Valley. Despite the serious and lasting disabilities and medical challenges that he faced as a consequence of these injuries, he fought to realize his dreams, and he made every effort to pass on his deep-rooted love of the land of Israel to his children.
He was successful on both counts. On the eve of Yom Hazikaron, which was the most sacred day of the year for my father, he was eventually reunited with his dear friends who never returned from the battlefield. On this day, his scars and war wounds finally won their battle.
For the families of the fallen, memories are what keeps their loved ones alive. Every picture, video or story brings their dearly departed back to them.
As most fallen soldiers died before their time and in an unexpected manner, the memories are few. I carry my father’s memory with me every day, but the number of years that I have been bearing his memory is greater than the number of years that I was fortunate to have had him in my life.
This is true of most families of Israel’s fallen soldiers. They had too short a time to form precious memories. These years, too brief, were followed by far longer years of grief and grasping at the minimal, fleeting, precious moments.
Despite this acute pain for us all, life inevitably goes on. We create new experiences, marry, have children and grandchildren. All of this happens without our loved ones by our sides.
Throughout our lives, at every significant occasion, we feel the momentous loss and think how this occasion would have been different if we were celebrating with the father, husband, brother or sister who will never again return.
During these mournful and touching moments, we create new fictitious memories. Memories that never happened but that we wish had occurred. What my father may have said at my wedding; what kind of a relationship he would have had with my oldest son who is named after him; and how he may have interacted with the rest of his grandchildren whom he never had the opportunity to meet.
Every milestone is a virtual meeting with my father. Every critical moment is accompanied by the creation of virtual memories.
Over the many years of my father’s absence, I have imagined dozens of such memories—during moments of happiness and sorrow, crises and triumphs, on the days that I was sworn in at the Knesset and before important speeches that I delivered at the United Nations.
These memories that never took place blend steadfastly with the transient memories of the past. Today as we unite in sorrow, we remember and cherish the real-mythical mosaic of memories of each of our fallen loved ones.
Ambassador Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud, served as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Minister of Science and Technology and Deputy Minister of Defense.